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Spring brings flea, tick problems to pets

MSU Extension Service

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Dogs, cats and sometimes people are targets of fleas and ticks as warm weather brings out these annoying parasites.

Dr. Stanley Robertson, Extension veterinarian at Mississippi State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, said fleas and ticks are a problem from spring to early fall in Mississippi.

“These are external parasites that use animals and humans for a blood meal,” Robertson said. “Ticks and fleas can transmit diseases and animals, especially dogs, can become allergic to a protein in the flea's saliva.”

Robertson said fleas live most of their lives off the animal, coming on board mostly just for meals. Fleas have a four-stage life cycle which typically lasts about one month. A flea can develop from an egg to an adult in seven to 10 days, but environmental conditions can lengthen their development from egg to larva, then pupa and adult.

Left untreated, fleas can be a major annoyance to dogs and cats and in some cases, can transmit disease. Dr. Mark Russak, a CVM primary care assistant professor, said in Mississippi, fleas often transmit tapeworms to dogs and cats.

“Fleas are the intermediate host for tapeworms, and dogs and cats with fleas can get tapeworms easily,” Russak said.

Dogs allergic to the flea bite can scratch excessively, irritating their own skin and creating open sores which are susceptible to secondary infections.

Ticks can live about a year, with a four-part life cycle that includes egg, six-legged larva, eight-legged nymph and adult. While they can carry such diseases as Lymes disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the most common tick-borne disease in the state is Ehrlichiosis, a bacteria that can make an infected dog sick with swollen joints, a high fever and loss of appetite.

People who move through tick-infested areas should check themselves and any children daily for ticks. Ticks especially like tight spots like the waistline of pants and sock lines. Repellent sprays can help keep ticks from latching onto passing clothes, arms or legs.

Russak said if a tick has attached to a person or a pet, removal is the same.

“Wear gloves. Since ticks do carry disease, if you have open wounds or open cuts and crush a tick, you could get some of those disease organisms in your blood,” Russak said. “Use tweezers and slowly and gently pull the tick out at the same angle that it entered.”

Clean the area with an antiseptic. The spot may get swollen and red from the bite, but a tick that has been lodged for less than 24 hours has not had time to transmit disease.

The best way to keep pets free of fleas and ticks is with topical products applied regularly.

“There are some fabulous products out there that we've never had before,” Russak said. “Probably the No. 1 products are Frontline and Advantix, both of which treat fleas and ticks.”

Advantix cannot be used on cats. Revolution is a popular once-a-month heartworm, flea and tick medication, but Russak said it is not effective on all ticks.

“Talk to your veterinarian about which products are best for your situation,” Russak said. “The products veterinarians have are far superior to over-the-counter treatments, and along with these superior products, you get the advice on how to use it most effectively.”

Released: April 27, 2006
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